Monday, September 9, 2013

Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (2013)


He can reel you in with his sense of invention or genuine eroticism, but Justin Timberlake has yet to truly shake the babyfaced Mickey Mouse Club kid still buried in him singing about being a "ju-ju-ju-junkie for your love," no matter how much of a Jay-Z-level entrepreneur he may now be. As an actor, he's wily and chirpy, a yuppie shrimp-kid of sorts; as a Michael Jackson, he lacks enigma; as a Prince, eccentricity; as a body music titan or a rock & roller, he just isn't dangerous enough.

As a pop genius, well, there's something there; look no further than the gigantic, throttling "Mirrors," a massive hit buried in the back half of this lengthy album that careens out of the tinny speakers at Sheetz like you're suddenly in some cologne-sprayed, risk-clouded nightclub at 2 in the morning as you in reality wait for your jalapeno-stuffed pretzel. "Mirrors" takes radio pop in no particularly new directions, it's just a motherfucking immaculate, perfect, supremely enveloping example of same -- the kind of song, like more than one of Timberlake's previous smashes, that you immediately know you will forever associate with this summer.

The dictum that 20/20 proves all too mightily is that artistic decisionmaking and restraint are the hallmark of a true giant. Timberlake might be a class act in his exchange and cultivation of talent, the guy everyone wants to work with, but he's failed to learn one particular lesson: the fact that some, perhaps many, of your impulses are brilliant -- and boy, are they; does "Suit & Tie" not take you back to some sort of post-adolescent heaven of musical hedonism? -- does not mean that all of them are, and taking these often threadbare grooves, extended bounds through sped-up neo-soul haze that are barely songs at all, off into the next several James Murphy-like pages of ProTools screens until their every twist and cranny is exhausted across eight or nine minutes smacks of desperation: either the desperation of excessive self-confidence or the desperation of no confidence at all. And if he's not afraid to put something as ludicrous as "Don't Hold the Wall" or "Spaceship Coupe" on his album, it's hard to suspect the latter.

Return to "Mirrors" for a moment -- its tight and ecstatic radio edit is just 4:37, stretched to over eight minutes on the record. Ask me which version I'd rather hear right now. Even "Suit & Tie," a complex and hyperactive single already, seems to wear out its welcome in context. We know that either of these cuts have perfection buried in them, and so we can conclude the same about the insanely long "Pusher Love Girl," or suspect the same about something as cutesy and banal as "Strawberry Bubblegum" even if it's hard to see. In the end, quickly comparing this to a similarly structured new album by Pet Shop Boys, Electric, is revealing. PSB will never in their lives again come up with a hook as glorious, persuasive and automatically incisive across the culture as "Suit & Tie," but nor do any of their wildly extrapolating melodies and beats ever start to wear thin. But maybe the feeling of a party that peaks in jabbing, orgasmic moments and is otherwise kind of sickly and uncomfortable is really Timberlake's idea anyway, in which case maybe it's just his conceptual instincts that need fine-tuning. Because I can't think of another album with so many things I like that I nevertheless highly doubt I will ever listen to in complete form again.

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